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6 Essentials of NationBuilder - 1) Setting Up Your Election


NationBuilder describes itself as “Software for Leaders.” Since its public release in 2010, it has become a dominant player in the political campaign and issue advocacy space. The primary reason NationBuilder has been so successful is that it provides an organization with virtually every tool needed to run a campaign. There are more than 30 pre-built page types. The platform allows you to take online donations, recruit volunteers, manage events, create walk and call lists, send blast emails and texts, manage your voter file, identify voters, organize your GOTV efforts and much more. It also enables your campaign to organize and utilize data using tags, filters, goals and paths.

Why is this so important? The one finite quantity in every campaign is time. And while not necessarily finite, another element that is too often in short supply is money. Why risk wasting either? You don’t want to waste time calling or door-knocking voters who aren’t going to vote for you or, even worse, who have already told you they will. Imagine the cost of sending of voter persuasion mailer to 10,000 voters you have already identified as yes votes. Yes, big-data and voter modeling is becoming increasingly accessible to down ballot races but it’s money wasted if you don’t do small-data and voter data management well.

NationBuilder is, in essence, a “campaign in a box”...and that’s very powerful because it means all of your data is located in one place. It can also be a problem because it’s a big box with a lot of stuff inside. In this series of articles, we will try to unpack that box. We’ll explain what we believe are the essential capabilities of NationBuilder and demonstrate how you can use them to give you an advantage over your opponent.

Let’s get started.

While the first two tasks aren’t NationBuilder, they inform everything a campaign is going to do between now and Election Day. You have to determine your “Votes-To-Win” (VTW) number which will give you a good estimate on your “Dollars-To-Win.” I will address Dollars to Win first as it is really just a multiple of Votes to Win. You should figure you’re going to need between $10 and $15 per vote. Have candidates won with less? Sure, but while I enjoy working with “grassroots” campaigns, I much prefer working with grassroots campaigns that also have adequate funding. (Note: A campaign budget is based on what you need to spend, not on what you think you can raise.)  

To get your VTW, you are going have to look at past election results. While there are too many variables to analyze here, three important things to consider are:

1. The number of candidates (particularly in primaries)
2. The participation of an incumbent (currently or in comparable past elections) and
3. The presence of elections or ballot initiatives that might affect turnout.

As a note on whether or not there is an incumbent in the race, years ago I was the Comms Director in a mayoral race in a small city. I was chatting with the two front runners before a debate and mentioned that I thought it would take 4,000 votes to make the general election. They thought I was crazy saying that there hadn’t been more than 5,200 votes cast in the last five primaries. I pointed out those races all involved a sitting incumbent. On primary night, they both moved on to the general, one with 4,300 votes and the other with 4,022.

I won’t go deep in the weeds about How to set up your election in NationBuilder as there is very good documentation over at It is very important that you go to Dashboard>Settings>Enable Voters to unlock all the capabilities built into NationBuilder for political campaigns.

The next thing you want to do is have NationBuilder import your voter file into your Nation. The import and information is free but it will increase the cost of your Nation under NationBuilder’s pay as you grow pricing. I will get further into How to use Filters and Filters vs Lists vs Tags in the 3rd article of this series but you will want to use filters to identify your high-propensity/likely voters and then export and delete the rest. That way you’re not paying for database records of voters you are not targeting. Every race is different and state election laws differ as well so how you choose your voter universe will too. As an example, if you are running in a party primary in a state where voting is restricted to party members and undeclared voters, you probably don’t need voters who are outside that universe.

Now that you have narrowed your voters universe, I recommend you enhance that data with commercial and demographic data that syncs with your voter file. This is important because it helps you better identify your likely voters and more precisely target your efforts, especially if you have a large percentage of unenrolled voters. Also, as your campaign successfully identifies both supporters and non-supporters, you are going to create clear pictures or profiles of those groups allowing you to focus relatively more resources on prospective voters who look like your known supporters.

So you have your Votes to Win and Dollars to Win numbers. You also have your pool of targeted voters. In the next article, I will discuss using Point Persons, Permission Sets, Goals and Paths to organize not only to create workflows for your campaign but also to identify the voters you need to win your election.


FourTier Strategies is a national, political digital agency. Brad Marston, is Co-Founder and Partner and is a NationBuilder Certified Expert and Achitect. 

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3 Reasons Candidates Should NOT Manage Their Own Social Media Accounts


A political candidate has three jobs:

1. Raise money.

2. Meet voters.

3. Secure support.

Everything else should be delegated, including social media.

I could explain why so many candidates ignore this 101-level advice, but I’ll save that for another time. For the purposes of this post, I’ll address the headline directly.

Reason 1: It sends the wrong message.

With a few notable exceptions, candidates who manage their own social media accounts are unwittingly screaming to the world that they are not viable. After all, it’s not very expensive to hire a competent social media vendor these days. Candidates who refuse to delegate this task are generally either broke, narcissistic, or a combination thereof. Those who don’t fit into these categories are receiving and following bad advice.

Reason 2: Time is limited.

Candidates who spend all day on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest, are wasting precious time that could be allocated far more effectively and efficiently. Three hours of fundraising calls, for example, might end up covering the costs associated with a full time social media vendor. Three additional hours might pay for a digital strategist who knows how to get that vendor’s posts and tweets seen by the right people. 

Reason 3: Do you know what you don’t know?

Effective social media is a combination of art, science, and experience. I’ve never met a  “social media expert” or “digital strategist” who has decided to run for office, so it’s unlikely that most political candidates have the slightest clue about what they’re doing online. Anyone can post or tweet “stuff.” That part may be time-consuming, but it’s certainly not difficult. There are many “tricks to the trade”, however...and I guarantee that hiring a professional to implement “best practices” will provide a handsome return on investment.

There are many other reasons why candidates should limit their time online. I can’t even begin to tell you about the “epic fail” I have witnessed over the years, but I’ll be kind and not name names. Suffice it to say that it’s best to eliminate unforced errors and focus on the most critical candidate-related tasks.  

John LaRosa is Co-Founder/Partner at FourTier Strategies, LLC and an Aristotle Award winner for best GOP social media in the 2010 election cycle.


Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar


Is this a joke?

No. In fact, if you are running for office, it is very serious. Our hope is to briefly explain how digital strategy and field strategy no longer operate in separate “silos”...and how the campaigns that best merge the two will be more efficient, effective and ultimately, more successful.

So back to our two candidates. They both walk into a bar and inside are 100 people who live in the district. Obviously, they both want to do the three jobs of a candidate; meet voters, secure votes and raise money. The challenge is that they only have 30 minutes. 

One candidate starts working the room introducing himself and, hopefully, listening to people’s concerns. That is traditional “field.” Candidate 2 [C2] knows that of the 100 people in the bar, only 80 are registered to vote. Given that they are running in a primary, C2 also know which of those 80 voters are members of their party and so can vote for them. C2 also knows which of those voters have voted in at least three of the last four primaries. C2 knows who of those 20 or 30 voters own their home, have a net worth over $500,000 and have donated to past political campaigns. C2 looks for those specific voters and starts implementing her strategy. That is effectively merging field and digital.

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No Campaign Plans To Lose


...What they do is fail to plan.

In the private sector, startup companies often spend months developing business plans. That intensive but necessary process includes a significant amount of research...and that research is critical to the development of effective strategies and tactics.

Most political campaigns are like business startups and the candidates are essentially new “products.” We published a blog post a couple of years ago “Ten Questions To Ask Before Running For Office.” Assuming you can ask and adequately answer those questions, the next question is “Now what?”

The answer? Plan, Plan, Plan.

The first number you need to know is “Votes To Win.”

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Don't Just Broadcast. Enlist and Engage


When we design candidate websites, we never make the About the Candidate page the homepage. Obviously you will want to tell everyone about your educational and work background, how amazing your spouse is and about your wonderful children, but it shouldn't be the first thing people see. We believe it sends the message that the campaign is about the candidate. It's not. The campaign is about the visitor, the volunteer, and ultimately, the voter. Sure, you want to give visitors a sense of who the candidate is but you can and should do that visually with compelling images and good design. What you really want to do is engage and enlist visitors to become supporters and volunteers.

The image above is from the homepage from our new Insurgent Theme Template. On the left is a standard email signup (although we did add the increasingly popular social signup). Obviously, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to give you their contact information. The center panel is the Profile Checklist which will show visitors what actions they have taken on the site. All listed items are hyperlinked to the appropriate pages. On the right is a volunteer signup form, which also allows visitors to take actions without ever clicking away from the home page.

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The Forthright-Local Theme - Powerful, Responsive and Affordable

FourTier Strategies New Forthright Local Theme

Since 2010, FourTier Strategies has designed more than eighty websites for Republican political campaigns and conservative issue-advocacy organizations. We have worked with dozens of Congressional and US Senate candidates, some conservative PACs, and even Herman Cain's campaign for President of the United States.

We designed all of our clients’ sites using NationBuilder...and we couldn’t be happier with the platform. We’ve written about why campaigns should look at NationBuilder for their campaign infrastructure. In short, it is simply the best, most affordable, and most robust data/donor/volunteer/voter management system available on the market.

We also custom-designed all or parts of those 80+ sites, however; and this was both time consuming and labor-intensive. Quite frankly, that kind of customization is outside the budget of most smaller campaigns.

We wanted to change that, so we created Forthright-Local.  In order to help down-ticket candidates, we packaged the technical knowledge and hands-on experience we gained over the years into a far more affordable, yet 100% NationBuilder-compliant, website at a price almost any campaign can afford.

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Make Any Page A Landing Page


And make is SMART too.

We were working on a splash/landing page for a client, J.D. Winteregg. We wanted to create a splash page that encourages visitors to use Facebook to sign up on the site. Statistics show that over 70% of site traffic is from first-time users for political websites. We want to do everything we can to begin developing relationships with potential supporters, volunteers, donors and most importantly, voters.  A campaign gets so much more information about that sign up if visitors use Facebook to join the site rather than just name and email address. 

Yes, with NationBuilder's Match function which pulls in a supporter's Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn profile information there is a good chance that the campaign will get that information if that visitor uses the same email address when they sign up for the site as they use for those profiles. But that is potentially a big if. Why take the risk?

So we came up with a typical splash/landing page that makes it easy for visitors to become supporters, give us access to their Facebook profile information, donate or just skip to the site homepage. We pulled in the signup page using a partial template.

I looked at what we came up with and thought it looked pretty awesome. Then I thought, why stop there? Why not create a page type that allows our clients to make any page a landing page increasing the chance we can begin developing that relationship?

So we did.



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Using Filtering and Liquid to Increase Your Donation Email Click-Throughs


There are countless articles and blog posts about effective email marketing. I know. I have read most of them. This post is specifically about getting better results (Raising more money) from your campaign's existing email list by using NationBuilder filters for Strategic Targeting.

The essence of Strategic Targeting is delivering the right message to the right people at the right time. I recently posted an article Don't Just Collect an Email. Start a Relationship which talks about how to collect email addresses so that they can be used strategically to develop and deepen relationships. This article is a continuation of that theme.

Most of us have seen political email fundraising done wrong. If you've ever donated to a political campaign you've probably gotten an email asking:

  • "Please donate by midnight tomorrow" when you donated yesterday at 8:30 AM;
  • "Can you Chip In $5?" when your last donation was for $500;
  • "Join my GOLD Leadership Team with a donation of $1000 or more" when the most you have ever donated to the campaign was $20 or my "favorite";
  • "Friend, Can you please support my campaign?" when I have already signed up to donate monthly.

What is wrong with all those asks? They tell the recipient that either you don't know or don't care about them and how they have supported your campaign. Don't ask someone to do something they have already done. Don't insult someone who has made a major investment in your campaign. Don't ask someone to do something they probably can't do.

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Don't Just Collect An Email. Start A Relationship


Any consultant or campaign manager will tell you that email acquisition is the lifeblood of a campaign. You'll use them for Voter ID, Volunteer Recruitment and yes, Fundraising. But what if beyond just acquiring a name and an email address you use the process to start a relationship with that potential voter, volunteer and/or donor. If structured correctly, every interaction with a campaign website is a data point. In fact, it can be multiple data points.

As a NationBuilder Certified Expert, I am often asked: "Can't we just blast email or blast direct message people." My answer is usually either "no" or "Yes. But no, you shouldn't." What you should automate is collecting data. What you should personalize is how you use it.

We recently launched a new site for a client Matt is running for Congress in Ohio. There are 3 signup opportunities on the home page. One is in the modal signup form that floats over the header video banner. The other two are underneath quotes by the candidate regarding Right to Life and the 2nd Amendment.

If the user didn't already have an email associated with their account the homepage template had {% include "home-email capture %} which was just a partial template of the signup form. Yeah, it's great if they sign up but it doesn't give you much information.

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4 Reasons You Need To Look At NationBuilder


The 2016 election cycle is already upon us. Candidates are making decisions on digital matters that include websites, voter and volunteer data management systems and donation platforms. The savviest among them will be taking the time to determine how to best utilize and leverage the avalanche of data that is going to come cascading into their campaigns in the weeks and months ahead. For these initiatives, FourTier Strategies recommends NationBuilder.

The key reason we recommend it to our clients is because NationBuilder best supports four premises that we believe are vital to the success of a campaign.

1.    There is no field strategy, digital strategy and communications strategy. There is only strategy.

2.    Information in a silo is almost always underutilized.

3.    Most campaigns should avoid “big data” and focus on perfecting their use of “small data.”

4.    Websites should be user-centric.


There is really nothing a campaign wants to do offline that it doesn’t also want to do online (e.g. increase name recognition, identify voters, find volunteers and raise money). Tweets, Facebook posts, emails or text blasts, literature drops, direct mail pieces and press releases are all communications. A pledge to vote page, a phone call and a door-to-door canvass all fall into the voter identification bucket. Imagine how much more efficient and powerful all of these efforts will be if they are all coordinated and tracked from one place! That can all happen within NationBuilder.

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